Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Head Standing

When I was a kid, I always remember a teacher asking the whole class what the word horizon meant. And I can recall almost straining for the answer, of having a sense that if I could just fathom it out, the teacher would like and be impressed by me - even at that young age, I had a keen sense that people didn't.

Like me, I mean.

And I don't know why I expected her to like me for guessing, either - because she didn't. For some bizarre, random reason, I did come up with the answer. I don't know if it had been lodged in my subconscious, or if it was as I had weirdly felt at the time...that I knew the answer, and pushing hard enough would unearth it. But it came to me - I remember saying to her that it was the line at the back of all the houses - and then she'd simply looked at me, aghast. Or with contempt. Or with something similarly reserved for a child who's just shit herself.

Not for a child who came up with an answer she assumed was beyond the reach of all.

And I often wonder...why did she look at me like that? Shouldn't she have been pleased, that one kid actually worked it out? Why pose the question if you genuinely think no one has the ability to come up with the answer, and then seem to mysteriously hate it when they do?

Especially when the group you're asking is comprised of six year olds. I could understand someone wanting a kind of silly triumph over a group of peers (like asking a brain teaser or a joke, giggling to yourself when no one knows), but a group of tiny little creatures? Ones you already know are kind of idiots, by default?

There's nothing to prove over a group of idiots. But I've kind of felt ever since that she did want to prove herself over a group of idiots, and that's always made me sad. That's what life is. Proving yourself over a group of idiots. Making someone else look foolish, so you can seem better.

And I wish we were...happier, that someone knows what the horizon is. That someone can see the sky and want to reach for it, instead of being aghast that someone who you thought was an idiot has guessed the clever game. And I can see how that feeling has resonated through my own life.

I feel cautious, about revealing accomplishments - in case they make anyone else feel bad. And I tend to feel like an idiot all the time, or like people see me as an idiot, even if they don't say. And finally, I find it very, very difficult to correct people. If a friend says something about one of my books, I can't tell them they're wrong. If someone pronounces my name wrong or calls me Mrs Smith because they assume I took my husband's name, I can't say. Even as a teacher, I find it crushingly hard to tell my students that they've not quite got the right idea.

I don't want to be that person, looming over people, willing them to be idiots so I can feel good. I want to be the opposite. I want to feel good because other people feel good - but even that's a very dangerous feeling to have. It exposes you, and makes you weak. People can see the soft underbelly, and they go for it. I'll never be one of those supremely confident authors who thinks everything they do is marvellous. I'll never be cut throat; I can't give fake bad reviews to my "competition" the way I know some other people do - sometimes I'm not even sure I understand the idea of competition, the way a lot of people do. I can't talk other people down or dismiss them, and if I feel like I have in some stupid way I experience nothing but a crushing kind of guilt.

Though don't get me wrong - I'm glad I feel this way. I'd rather feel this way, than anything else. I'd rather reach for the sky on my own terms, than stand on other people's heads to get at it.


  1. Charlotte - Writers actually leave bad reviews of other writers under false names? Why? Is this all a big contest and nobody told me?

    I can relate to what you're saying about correcting people. I want to help new writers, but I'm terrified that something I say will make them toss their pen and never write another word. I don't want to be that person. It would be different if I knew those magical words that always encouraged people, but I don't. So most of the time I don't say anything.nsibui

  2. Charlotte, I love your last line.

    Re competition, snarkiness & sabotage among writers, this sometimes gets discussed in university lit. classes. The writers who wage war against each other tend to look like overgrown brats in the long run. The ones who help other writers (in the role of friend, editor or supportive publisher) are often remembered for their good taste & good deeds, if not for their own writing. Assuming anyone ever mentions me after my death, I know how I would like to be remembered.

  3. Charlotte,

    I'm sorry to be so late reading this (and everyone else's posts this week).

    It's not really a competition. People who believe that are already lost.

  4. Kathleen - yep, they do. I didn't believe it either, but I've seen some pretty definitive proof. Crazy, huh? And that's the problem for me, too. I don't want to embarrass or discourage anyone.

    Jean - definitely! Me too.

    Lisabet - don't worry! I love that you always take the time to comment. I barely have enough to read, never mind say anything constructive. And I totally agree. I don't even know what these people think they will gain from fake rating other people's work. It's not as tho someone's going to buy your book cos another book has a one star review on it.


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